Sunday, April 14, 2013

American Indians part of the great rural-to-urban migration

That is the primary point of Timothy Williams's story in the New York Times today, dateline Minneapolis and headlined "Quietly, Indians Reshape Cities and Reservations." Williams notes that this migration is "largely unnoticed" but cites Census Bureau data for the proposition that more than 70% of American Indians and Alaska Native now live in metropolitan areas.  That figure was just 45% in 1970, only 8% in 1940.

Of course, this migration tracks our nation's broader move from rural places to urban ones:  more of the U.S. population last lived in rural areas than in urban ones at the 1920 census--nearly a century ago.  More specifically, Williams compares this Indian migration to that of millions of African-Americans from the rural south to northern and western cities during the so-called Great Migration of the last century.  But Williams also notes an important difference between the two groups:
[W]hile many black migrants found jobs in meatpacking plants, stockyards and automobile factories, American Indians have not had similar success finding work.
Further, according to Dr. Philip R. Lee, an emeritus professor of social medicine at the University of California, San Francisco:
When you look at it as a percentage, the black migration was nothing in comparison to the percentage of Native Americans who have come to urban areas. 
Williams discusses the pros and cons of Indian life in the city, comparing, for example, poverty rates among Indians in metropolitan areas with those on reservations.  Here's an excerpt from the story which focuses on Indians in Minneapolis in particular:  
Despite the rampant poverty, many view Minneapolis as a symbol of progress. The city’s Indian population, about 2 percent of the total, is more integrated than in most other metropolitan areas, and there are social services and legal and job training programs specifically focused on them. 
The city has a Native American City Council member, Robert Lilligren; a Native American state representative, Susan Allen; and a police chief, Janee Harteau, who is part Indian. But city life has brought with it familiar social ills like alcoholism and high unemployment, along with less familiar problems, including racism, heroin use and aggressive street gangs.

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